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Political Parties are a Growth Industry in Lesotho

Lesotho’s economy is nearly a tenth smaller than in 2016 and its 2.2m people are poorer than the average sub-Saharan African. The more than two-thirds who live off the land face erratic rains and climate change. Factories built by Taiwanese and Chinese firms in the 1990s to make clothes for Americans are shedding jobs. A huge dam to supply its neighbour with water is delayed. There is one booming sector, though: political parties. “It is one of the only growth areas,” notes John Aerni-Flessner of Michigan State University. Some 65 were registered for elections on October 7th, up from 27 in 2017. Scholars reckon that in Lesotho the number of parties, relative to population, is among the world’s highest. Political entrepreneurs have every incentive to start their own parties. In 2015 one got a mere 1,900 votes and its leader ended up in the cabinet. What makes a political career attractive in the first place is the lack of economic alternatives, besides looking for work in South Africa. “The only available means of survival is to be close to the state,” says Motlamelle Kapa of the National University of Lesotho (NUL). Public spending is more than 50% of gdp, a higher share than elsewhere in southern Africa.